El Jefe De Jefes: The Humble Tortilla Española

Wait, I thought this was a travel blog?!’ I hear you ask yourself. Well, that it is. But since the cuisine of a place is so inextricably linked to its culture, I may as well take the liberty of justifying my culinary adventures (or misadventures for that matter) experienced during my travels, into this humble blog of mine. And experiencing a country’s cuisine is another way of travelling to that country, wouldn’t you agree?

I really should have written this post a long time ago. Given that I am a foodie, I’m surprised that it has taken me so long to actually attempt Spanish cooking at home. I do blame the Spanish bar culture though- these ubiquitous social caves where going in is often way easier than coming out; where unpretentious food, local drinks and loud conversations seamlessly merge into a good few hours of relaxed fun. It’s here that I first encountered the humble tortilla Española, or the Spanish omelette. And so began my love affair: with Spanish bars, with Spanish cuisine and with the tortilla itself.

You can’t come to Spain and not come across this dish, for it is indeed everywhere; even sold in rather unappealing plastic packaging across various supermarkets. The local bars make it the best though, fresh off the pan. You’ll be given a piece as a ‘tapa’ (bite-sized snack) with your drink, and if it’s been made correctly, with the first bite itself you’ll enter into food heaven. Having only three main ingredients: eggs, potatoes and onion, it is of an appealing yellow colour, firm on the outside and slightly runny on the inside (although it tastes just as good if you fully cook it through). This is just such a simple and comforting dish- and it really embodies the main principles of Spanish cuisine: using the freshest possible ingredients and letting them be stars of the show, whilst leaving out all the strong spices and condiments (Yikes! goes my Indian soul).

If you are itching to try something new in your kitchen because the current quarantine has inspired your inner MasterChef, keep reading my post and you won’t be disappointed 😉 Like many Spanish recipes, this one is meant to be shared and will serve four people.

Ingredients (for a small tortilla Española)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Half an onion (Spanish people fall squarely into two teams- one that prefers their tortilla with onion, and the other that prefers it without. And trust me, this rivalry is as big as Real Madrid vs Barça).
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 potatoes, small to medium sized
  • Salt
  • A small pan
    • It’s important that your pan is small in this case, because tortilla Española is quite thick in size, and if you use a medium or a large pan, then the egg mixture will tend to spread out.
  • Chop the onion finely.
  • Cut the potatoes in quarters- extremely finely. This is important, otherwise the potatoes won’t cook very well.
The potato slices should be so thin that they should nearly be transparent.

This is where I will deviate from the original recipe in the interest of health, but I will write about both methods- the traditional and the not-so-traditional *cue Spanish protests*

Traditional method-

  • Heat a lot of oil in a wok, until it reaches its smoking point.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and fry the chopped onion first to caramelize them.
  • Once the onion is fried, take it out of the pan and chuck in the potatoes
  • Once the potatoes are fried, take them out and reserve the oil for later use.

My method-

  • Chuck the potatoes into a microwave-proof bowl, cover it with cling wrap and let it cook for 6 minutes in a 1000W microwave.
    • If you are unsure about the power input of your microwave, you can always pause it after 5 minutes and check how your potatoes are going.
    • They will be fully cooked when they will be quite soft.
Potatoes in
Potatoes out. 6 minutes; 1000W; and a little mashed afterwards.
  • Heat a little bit of oil in a pan and caramelize the chopped onion.
  • Once caramelised, remove it from the pan. Reserve the oil for later use.
  • Crack open the eggs in a large bowl and whisk them.
  • Add your potatoes and onions to the eggs and mix well. Add salt as per taste. Let the mixture rest for 15-ish minutes.
    • This is important to let the flavours mix well.
The final mixture should look something like this- THICK!
  • In a small pan, heat some oil
    • Make sure it’s a relatively generous amount- and not just coating the pan lightly. There needs to be some oil visible in the pan itself.
    • Confession time! This is where I failed. I didn’t add enough oil into my pan, and the bottom of my tortilla completely burnt. The rest of it was edible though, so you should be good as long as you have enough oil.
  • Once the pan is quite hot, chuck in the mixture and let it cook over medium heat.
Cooking in progress! Keep a steady eye on it!
  • Try moving the tortilla while it’s cooking by shaking the pan a little.
  • Check if the bottom and the sides are cooked by using a flat ladle to see if the tortilla comes off easily.
    • The top side will be undercooked and that’s okay- for now.

And now comes the trickiest step of the recipe– and is no less than doing acrobatics in my opinion. If done incorrectly, it has known to result in a very messy floor, a tortilla smashed beyond recognition, lots of tears and swearing.

  • Remove the pan from heat. Take a LARGE, FLAT plate and stick in on top of the pan. With a FIRM GRIP flip them over, so that the tortilla slides from the pan to the plate, with the top side now at the bottom.
    • Make sure you do the flipping in a quick motion and do it over the sink to avoid any mess, just in case. It helps if you have a small pan.
  • Now slide the tortilla back into the pan it came from.
  • Let it cook for a bit more- and that’s it!
How to do the perfect tortilla flip.
How NOT to do the tortilla flip.
The end result
Expectations. (The tortilla of my landlord- Ana)
Reality. (My tortilla 😦 First attempt though)


I’d love to know how it turned out for you guys! Do you have a different method of making this tortilla? If you’re not from Spain, do you have something similar in your countries- or maybe some other snack that is very typical? Let me know all this and more in the comments section, or through my IG- @navigating.without.borders 😊 

Cover photo: Tortilla de patatas, courtesy La Cocina de Frabisa

Quirky things about the Spaniards (Part 1)

It goes without saying that every country has a unique culture that is influenced by many factors, like its history, location and climate. As an expat, it can be very entertaining, and at times confusing, weaving your way through it as you try to make sense of everything new. You can do your research before moving, but nothing really prepares you fully until you set your foot in the new country- and of course, Spain is no different. These cultural differences have fascinated me so much that I decided to write about them. So, here are some things that I find quite quirky about the Spanish people.

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: These are my own views and I’m in no way mocking the Spanish culture. Anyone who knows me well enough can bear witness that I’m obsessed with anything that is Spanish- I have my Instagram as evidence (follow me: @navigating.without.borders).
OK, here we go: 

They modify certain English words and chuck them in their sentences when speaking in Spanish.
Esmoquin hot. (Gerard Piqué, Spanish footballer) . Image courtesy: Pinterest

Sometimes it’s the meaning that’s modified, something it’s the spelling, but it comes across as rather funny to an English speaker. For eg:

  1. Footing (which actually means jogging)
  2. Tuit (tweet)
  3. Mosto Greip (which is a non-alcoholic grape drink)
  4. Esmoquin (pronounced as ‘esmokin’- a variation of ‘smoking’, which means a tuxedo..)
  5. Vater (pronounced as ‘water’, which means a bloody toilet!). I teach English to young 7- year olds here and imagine their faces when I told them in class one day ‘I like to drink water.’ HA!)
There is a certain aversion to following rules at times, like
  1. Not being too strict about picking up their dogs’ poo
  2. Trying to cut the queue
  3. Not waiting for the pedestrian sign before crossing the street

It does make you stick your head up whilst you’re out and about, rather than being glued to your phone to watch your 100th tik-tok video of the day.

This sign explains: Good luck is having a clean neighbourhood. Never took it seriously until I landed in some dog shit myself. ¡¡ME CAGO EN LA LECHE!! **swearing in Spanish**
Their profound desire to interact with humanity is what drives them from day to day:
It’s a skill guys, trust me.
  1. People ask you for directions instead of checking their google maps, although I think it’s because google maps doesn’t work very accurately at times in Spain.
  2. This one always warms my heart. People always ask you if you need help. The only exception: salespersons in retail and government officials! Those people really don’t want to have a conversation with you, which is a pain since those are exactly the people whose help you always end up requiring!
  3. You know what’s cooler than leaving text msgs on Whatsapp? Leaving voice messages! They do it as they need to express a lot and the addition of emotions is VERY important to a Spaniard.
  4. You will be subjected to conversations in a lift. There will come those glorious moments when no one will speak to you as cage yourself with strangers, but it is perfectly normal to greet each other, maybe even make small talk and not be awkward about it.
Every Spanish person has their ‘pueblo’ or village…

…which isn’t necessarily where they are from, but it’s basically where their family originated from. It’s also the place where some of them return to, every summer vacation, as some sort of an obligatory ritual.

Pueblo life
Spaniards have interesting naming traditions, such as:
  1. Nearly everyone having a nickname, and these nicknames are set in stone depending on their formal names. A José will always be known as Pepe to his friends and family, a Francisco is always a Paco, an Ignacio can never be anything BUT a Nacho where as good ol’ Dolores will be called Lola.
  2. The boys have the same names as their fathers’, who have the same names as their grandfathers’, who have the same name as their great- grand…you get the gist. I don’t know the history behind this lack of creativity, but it is something very common- and if you ask them if they add ‘Junior’/’Senior’ to differentiate, they roll their eyes saying ‘Of course, not! That’d just be lame.’ Ok then.
  3. People always have two last names. They use their father’s as well as the mother’s last name. Go gender equality!
‘Buenos días’ (good day/ good morning) is said right up until 2-3pm i.e. their lunchtime.
They smoke a lot.

And they might just blow it in your face accidentally and not apologise about it. I’ve always found it difficult to tolerate smoke, but now I’ve learnt to live with it. It just comes with the territory of siestas and fiestas.

And that’s it (for now lol)! There are plenty of other quirky and interesting things that I’ve noticed, and I’ll write about them soon. Are you a Spaniard or maybe an expat living in Spain? Which of these do you agree and disagree with? Do you have some quirky things from your culture that you would like to share? Let me know!

Cover photo: Viewpoint from Parque de la Alameda, Santiago de Compostela (Galicia).